Protesters gather across Arizona to demand officials close immigrant detention centers

Updated at 5:30 p.m.

PHOENIX – The dozens of protesters gathered outside the office of Arizona Rep. Greg Stanton’s office on Tuesday said they have seen enough of how officials treat migrants at detention centers.

“It is a humanitarian crisis,” protester Hannah Pynn said. “And when children are crying out for their mothers and they’re being mocked and not given resources that they need, which is their parents, it’s heartbreaking.”

They carried signs and expressed their concerns outside the Democrat representative’s office as part of a nationwide effort to demand the closure of immigrant detention centers.

The movement, called #CloseTheCamps, was hosted across the nation by several groups, including MoveOn, United We Dream and American Friends Service Committee. There were two other Arizona protests held in Glendale and Scottsdale.

The movement focuses on the treatment of immigrant children in the detention centers, citing inhumane conditions and reports of cover-ups of immigrant deaths and abuse, according to the #CloseTheCamps website.

The #CloseTheCamps event page for the Phoenix meeting said the intent was to have a conversation with Stanton about policies affecting migrants. Stanton has been a vocal critic of the poor treatment reported at some centers.

A staff member from Stanton’s office took statements about the protesters’ concerns. Cronkite News reached out to Stanton’s office for a statement, but they declined to comment.

Event host Janine Gelsinger said that organizers also want to get people involved in the political process.

“We’re really hoping to inspire people to take action in calling their representatives, emailing their representatives, making appointments with their representatives and really using their voices to hold our elected officials accountable,” she said.

Stanton was part of the delegation of representatives – led by the congressional Hispanic caucus – who on Monday visited immigrant detention facilities in El Paso and Clint, Texas.

Stanton called for increased congressional oversight following his visit. He said the U.S. doesn’t have a detention system that meets American values.

“Many of the women reported they hadn’t had a chance to shower in many days,” he said. “Folks reported they were not given the opportunity to have a longer period of sleep. The conditions that I personally saw as it relates to the play area for the children were not acceptable.”

Stanton also said border patrol agents he spoke to expressed frustration that facilities like those in Texas were not designed for the purpose of long-term detention. But, he stopped short of calling to close them.

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Stanton also said Border Patrol agents he spoke to are frustrated because facilities like those in Texas were not designed for long-term detention. But he stopped short of calling for the centers to be closed.

ProPublica on Monday reported the existence of a Facebook group in which current and former Customs and Border Control agents posted anti-immigrant and sexist memes and comments, including some directed at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

“The vile language that was used toward our immigrant community, and my fellow members of Congress, was disgusting and unacceptable,” said Stanton, who promised congressional hearings and called for participating agents to be fired.

Matthew Klein, assistant commissioner for the Office of Professional Responsibility, which is part of the Department of Justice, said an investigation has begun.

“Today, U.S. Customs and Border Protection was made aware of disturbing social media activity hosted on a private Facebook group that may include a number of CBP employees. CBP immediately informed DHS Office of the Inspector General and initiated an investigation. CBP employees are expected to adhere to CBP’s Standards of Conduct, Directive No. 51735-013A both on and off duty.”

That directive spells out that employees won’t make “abusive, derisive, profane, or harassing statements or gestures, or engage in any other conduct evidencing hatred or invidious prejudice to or about one person or group on account of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age or disability. This includes comments and posts made on private social media sites.”

Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost said, “These posts are completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see — and expect — from our agents day in and day out. Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable.”

KJZZ reporter Tom Maxedon contributed to this article.


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